TARHOUNA, Libya —
TARHOUNA, Libya (AP) — Moammar Gadhafi is determined to fight his way back to power, the toppled dictator's spokesman said Tuesday, but a large convoy of his soldiers has apparently deserted, crossing the Libyan desert into neighboring Niger.
Also Tuesday, tribal elders in a Gadhafi stronghold were trying to persuade regime loyalists holed up inside to lay down their arms, a rebel negotiator said.
Still, Gadhafi spokesman Moussa Ibrahim was defiant.
Gadhafi is "in excellent health, planning and organizing for the defense of Libya," Ibrahim told the Syrian TV station al-Rai, adding that both Gadhafi and his sons remain in Libya.
"We are fighting and resisting for the sake of Libya and all Arabs," Ibrahim said. "We are still strong and capable of turning the tables on NATO."
Gadhafi loyalists have been holed up in several towns, including Bani Walid, some 90 miles (140 kilometers) southeast of Tripoli. Thousands of rebel fighters have surrounded the town.
Rebel negotiator Abdullah Kanshil said Tuesday that tribal elders want assurances that the rebels will not take revenge, and are trying to persuade Gadhafi loyalists to lay down their arms.
Abdullah Kanshil, a rebel negotiator, opened a meeting with tribal leaders from Bani Walid Tuesday by assuring them his fighters were not bent on revenge. Another rebel official, Ali Dariki, listed medical supplies the rebels had brought for the town.
Abdel-Qader al-Maya, speaking for the tribal leaders, said at the meeting televised live by Al-Jazeera that rumors were circulating in Bani Walid that the rebels are going to "rape women and slaughter the people in Bani Walid."
Across the desert late Monday, a large convoy of Gadhafi loyalists rolled into the central Niger town of Agadez, said Abdoulaye Harouna, the owner of the local newspaper. The convoy consisted of more than a dozen pickup trucks bristling with well-armed Libyan troops, said Harouna, who saw the arrival.